At a facilitation session for an international banking group, one of the executives spotted my package of colored markers, and said to me, “Oh, coloring! My kids love to color—are we going to do that?” I answered quickly, “We certainly are! And I won’t even ask you to stay in the lines.”
In truth, I thought he was trying to make light of the huge sheets of paper on the walls with instructions and simple images. He might have been intimidated, faced with the task the group was assigned to do. The meeting was to be about managing reorganization, exposing roadblocks and finding missing connections between staff and departments. It didn’t seem to look like a pleasant prospect, and many in the room were apprehensive about spending two days exposing their problems.
But intimidation was not my goal. As a visual facilitator, my job was to give these leaders some tools beyond their words to expose missing connections in a way that they could see where the ball gets dropped and to put their individual processes in front of the entire group. Finding common ground by making visual sense out of a situation is, so often, the starting place for streamlining bottlenecks and achieving consensus.
Asking “how” and “why” frequently gave me the ability to draw individual processes, using lines, arrows, and symbols, or sum up attitudes and reactions with visual metaphors. Here’s a mind map I drew quickly that summarized common obstacles in getting approvals to move from department to department. (Please note that the grainy picture quality comes from the client’s permission only to use a low-res version of the image).
Did I ask them to draw anything? Not specifically—there was enough for them to think about without asking them to test those skills. But what did happen was the use of more visual metaphors as they spoke, more clarity as I would draw a visual description and ask, “does it look like this?…does this lead to that?”, and more comfort as each participant felt they could get their individual point expressed and heard more distinctly.
At the lunch break at the beginning of the first day, I asked that same executive if what he now saw on the walls was useful…and why. His answer?
“You surprised me, when I first saw the coloring stuff. But, actually, it’s very useful, I can see everything we spoke about so far right in front of me, and it’s not only helping me remember, but it’s making me think about new ideas.”
I just responded visually, nodding my head and smiling from ear to ear.